About Estonia – Kealan McLaughlin shares his experience
About Estonia: Kealan McLaughlin, professional ballet dancer from Canada, who has been dancing on the stage of the Estonian National Opera for three years, shares his experience as a foreigner living in Estonia.
Principal dancer of the Estonian National Ballet Kealan McLaughlin graduated from Canada’s National Ballet School in 2009 and spent years dancing in various ballet companies before his search for career opportunities brought him to Estonia in 2017, when he received an offer to take up the position of soloist after auditioning in a ballet class with some of the other company members. He has been living here for three years now, dancing the main parts of the best-known ballets as a principal dancer, and he feels quite at home in Estonia.
Kealan started an Estonian language course within the programme Settle in Estonia and he says that understanding the language, albeit at a basic level, has helped him immensely with adapting to local life. As Kealan speaks about living in Estonia, he truly lights up when the conversation turns to Tallinn’s charming Old Town, the compact layout of Tallinn and convenient solutions of our “digital state”.
To start from the very beginning, we ask Kealan to tell us how he happened to come to Estonia and to stay.
I first came to Estonia in March 2017 because the Estonian National Ballet was looking for new soloists, and I had reached the point in my career path and ambitions where I knew I wanted to go have an adventure somewhere far away from Canada. I came here for the audition without knowing very much about the country. My first impression (please remember that it was March!) was rather gloomy. I arrived late at night, checked in to the hotel, and on the following day decided to walk to the Estonian National Opera (locals call the building “Estonia”) from the hotel which took me past Viru shopping centre. It was a particularly cloudy day so my first impression of the city was gray sky, gray streets, gray buildings, frankly speaking a bit depressing. I joined the company for their morning ballet class as my audition and immediately after the class I was offered the position of soloist. I was ecstatic to hear the offer, but was not totally settled on the idea of moving here. I was invited by an acquaintance at the company to see and explore Old Town before I made up my mind.
When I went that night to the Old Town it felt like I had stepped into a snowy winter wonderland, and when I came upon the Town Hall Square I felt an energy of awe and delight rush through my whole body. I realized that this was a place I wanted to be, I felt like this could be my home. Ever since I was in ballet school I dreamed of living somewhere in Europe, in a charming old city with a long history, and of dancing professional ballet at a strong theatre. Standing in the Town Hall Square for the first time I felt like this was where I could have everything I had been yearning for. And I thought if I can live here in the warmth and light of this beautiful Old Town, then no matter how far I am from home I will never feel cold or alone.
I lived in the city centre for my first season but I managed to rent a very cute apartment in the Old Town in the following year. Every day, when I walk from home to “Estonia” theatre or back, I try to take time to enjoy the surroundings, to feel present in the moment and to find something new every time, be it a door, a window, or a roof corner I never noticed before. Sometimes I simply stop and admire the beauty and just feel fully grateful because I really do have everything I have ever wanted.